Why We Eat Organic Food: Easy Ways to Go Organic

As Organic September draws to a close, we thought we’d take a look at organic farming and how to introduce (or increase) organic food into your diet.

So first of all, what does organic mean? The Soil Association describes organic as a system of farming and food production using methods which benefit the whole food system: soil, plants, animals, people and the planet. Nature-friendly farming, if you like.

The main features and benefits of organic farming are:

Fewer Pesticides – all weedkillers are banned and naturally derived pesticides (such as citronella or clove oil) may only be used as a last resort in very limited circumstances. This natural approach, along with the introduction of habitats like hedgerows for wildlife, leads to greater biodiversity on organic farms; according to the Soil Association, 40-50% more plant, insect and bird life can be found on organic farms.

No Artificial Fertilisers – instead compost, animal manure and green manure (like clover) are used to add nutrients to the soil and maintain soil health. Healthy soil is a vital component in the production of food and one that industrial farming methods are rapidly destroying; organic farms have been shown to be more resilient to extreme weather events such as flooding and drought. Artificial fertilisers on the other hand are extremely harmful to aquatic life and can create “dead zones” in our waterways. In addition, the production and use of nitrogen-rich artificial fertilisers has driven a 30% increase in human-caused emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) in the last forty years. N2O is a greenhouse gas almost 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Higher Animal Welfare Standards – all animals are free range with plenty of space and there is no routine use of antibiotics. It is estimated that globally 73% of all antibiotics are used on livestock. A recent study by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics found that antibiotic use by organic farms certified by the Soil Association was four times lower than the national average in the UK.

No Genetically Modified Ingredients – according to the Soil Association, although GM foods are very limited in the UK, most non-organic livestock are fed on them. As a result, meat, eggs and dairy products from GM-fed animals are widespread and unlabelled in supermarkets.

Fewer Additives and Preservatives – harmful ingredients often found in highly processed foods are banned in organic food. These include hydrogenated fats, tartrazine, aspartame and mono sodium glutamate. What’s more, organic fruit and vegetables are not washed in chlorine.

Healthier Soils that Sequester More Carbon – organic farmland stores more carbon that non-organic land – on average 3.5 tonnes extra for every hectare – and organic soils are around 25% more effective at storing carbon in the long-term. This report found that if Europe’s farmland all followed organic principles, agricultural emissions could drop by 40-50% by 2050 whilst providing a sufficient and healthy diet for a growing population.

Health Benefits – as well as not containing potentially harmful pesticides and additives, in a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition organic milk and meat were found to contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic, as well as slightly higher concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids. In addition, the study found that organic cereals, fruit and vegetables contained up to 68% more antioxidants than non-organic produce.

Tasty Food – I know it’s a cliche, but I firmly believe that organic food tastes better than non-organic equivalents!

We are both big fans of organic food and farming. As well as growing our own without the use of any synthetic chemicals, we both have weekly deliveries of fruit and veg from Riverford. I buy organic milk from a local farm via our milkman, organic cheese and butter from the supermarket and organic beef and pork from a local farm shop. Caroline gets organic, British grown vegan food – including beans, lentils, quinoa, oats and pasta – from Hodmedod’s.

Gradually, as I learn more about the problems of industrial farming, I am trying to incorporate even more organic produce into our diets. This isn’t always easy; many organic products are not easily available or they come at a high price. But with a little bit of research and creativity, we have found that you can incorporate some organic produce into your diet without breaking the bank.

Here are some ways to introduce organic food to your diet:

Choose just one item at a time

There’s no need to go completely organic overnight! Why not just start with one item? Maybe replace a cheap readily available staple like potatoes, onions or carrots? Or pick one of your favourites from the Pesticide Action Network’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the foods which contain the most pesticide residues. Last year’s list showed a lot of non-organic fruits contain high residues of more than one pesticide, as does non-organic pre-packed salad and spinach. This year’s research looked at a different selection of products, and the most recent Dirty Dozen list shows almost all non-organic grapes and oranges contain a “cocktail of pesticides”. Dried fruits and herbs also contain particularly high levels.

Get an organic veg box delivered

Buying organic produce in this way is almost certainly cheaper than buying organic food from supermarkets. For example, a small veg box (containing 8 products) from Riverford costs £12.65 including delivery. Abel & Cole’s small veg box starts at £13.25 (plus £1.99 delivery). If you’re worried that you’ll end up with a surfeit of cabbage (it can happen!), at Riverford you can order individual items with a minimum spend of £15. This is what Caroline does, whilst we have a regular weekly fruit box and add individual vegetables as and when we need them.

Eat seasonally and locally

Organic asparagus or strawberries from the supermarket in December are going to cost a fortune and will most likely have been airfreighted. The same goes for non-organic products out of season. So, choose fruit and veg which is in season locally, it will no doubt be cheaper and tastier. It’s worth noting that a lot of small, local growers follow organic principles, but either can’t afford the cost of Soil Association certification or are in the process of becoming organic certified (which can take a long time).

Visit your local farmers market or farm shop

If you have a local organic producer near you, chances are that they’ll have a stall at a local market or sell their products in a nearby farm shop. Buying direct from producers (rather than a supermarket) should work out cheaper. A growing number of farmers are using regenerative farming methods, which have some overlap with organic principles and should also be supported. The Farm Retail Association has a useful search facility on its website to locate your nearest farm shop or farmers market (these are not necessarily organic).

Meal plan

Plan your meals for the week ahead, write a shopping list and stick to it! That way you won’t be overspending on food you don’t need and will be able to justify buying potentially more expensive organic produce. Check out our tips on reducing food waste.

Grow your own

One way to guarantee your food is organic is to grow your own! You don’t need a huge garden or allotment; potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, strawberries, salad and many more can all be grown in pots or a small garden. Even at this time of year it is still possible to grow salad – check out Tamar Organics or Delfland Nurseries for organic seeds and plants. Just remember to use peat free compost! For more tips see our eco-friendly gardening tips.

Not everyone can afford to eat organically but if you can make some switches to include organic food in your diet, you can reduce your environmental impact, help combat climate change and support biodiversity and wildlife. Spending a bit more on nutritious, organic food instead of high-calorie, highly-processed junk food, can also be beneficial to your health and waistline! Every time we spend our money, we are casting a vote for the type of world we want to live in, and by buying organic we are supporting nature-friendly farmers and helping to build a greener future.

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